Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, takes a shot at goal past San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle (22) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Even though Dan Boyle took the shot on what proved to be the game-winning goal for San Jose, he didn't even get credit for an assist after the puck ricocheted off four sticks before making its way into the net.
Boyle's point shot deflected off a defender and two teammates before Dany Heatley got the final tip on the power-play goal that helped the Sharks beat Washington 3-2 Thursday night for their 14th win in their last 15 meetings with the Capitals.
Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton ended up with the assists on the play after the puck glanced off their sticks before getting to Heatley, costing Boyle a point on the stat sheet but helping the Sharks get two needed points in the standings.
"Unbelievable, those three guys," Boyle said. "It is what it is, a win. A bunch of greasy forwards we got."
Pavelski scored a short-handed goal, Ryane Clowe added a score in the third period and Antti Niemi made 23 saves for the Sharks, who followed up last week's 2-0 win at Washington with another victory over the Capitals.
The Sharks' 11th win in their past 14 games helped move them into a tie for fourth place in the jam-packed Western Conference playoff race. With only three points separating the third and ninth-place teams, San Jose is far from comfortable with 23 games remaining.
"Everyone realizes the standings and how tight the West is," Pavelski said. "Every game has a playoff atmosphere. We're trying to get there and you think you make up a little ground but you really don't make any."
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Capitals, who have lost four of five. One night after breaking out offensively in a 7-6 win at Anaheim, Washington once again struggled to score and now has 10 losses and one tie in its last 11 trips to San Jose. The Capitals have five goals in their past four losses.
For the second time in just more than a week, these teams went into the third period tied only to have the Sharks come up with the big plays for the win.
"We came out really strong and then we tapered off," defenceman John Carlson said. "We just have to be dominant all game long, we just can't get let off the gas. This would have been a big two points for us if we had won."
Kyle Wellwood got the third period started for the Sharks when he fired a puck from the boards to the front of the crease. Clowe knocked it down with his stick and then backhanded the puck past a sprawling Michal Neuvirth for his 15th goal to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead 4:27 into the final period.
Then came the deflection by Heatley that ended a string of 12 straight failed power plays for the Sharks, who had gone five straight games without scoring with the man advantage.
"That's the way our power play hasn't scored as many goals," Pavelski said. "It was big for us tonight. It was just a flutter but we had traffic there. That was the biggest thing."
The Capitals got one goal back when Backstrom scored with 1:55 remaining, but could not get the equalizer.
The Sharks returned home from a two-week road swing in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race after winning five of seven games on the trip. This began a stretch of 15 home games in the final 24 contests, which normally would be a good omen except for the fact that San Jose had won only half its home games heading into this contest.
There were only a few scoring chances in the first two periods, with the only goals coming 22 seconds apart on the same power play in the closing minutes of the first period.
Just nine seconds after Ben Eager was sent off for tripping Ovechkin in the offensive zone, Carlson lost the puck at the point for Washington. Patrick Marleau came up with it and fed the puck to Pavelski, who fired a hard shot past Neuvirth for the first goal of the game.
The Capitals responded almost immediately when Ovechkin beat Niemi with a wrist shot from the top of the circles for his 23rd goal that tied it with 48.6 seconds left in the first period.
"Ovi looks like the old Ovi now," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I hadn't been able to say that but in recent games he has been, so let's hope he continues. The energy he's playing with, he's coming back hard and he's not staying upright and his shifts were short. And all those things encompass a good leader. That's what he was doing."
Notes: Sharks D Marc-Edouard Vlasic left in the first period with an upper-body injury. ... Washington star D Mike Green missed his third straight game with an apparent head injury. ... The Sharks placed G Antero Niittymaki on injured reserve and called up forward Tommy Wingels and D Nick Petrecki from Worcester.